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Ralph Routon

Anyone who has lived in the Colorado Springs area for a while might have sensed something different about the Summer Olympics in Tokyo. You just couldn’t put your finger on it.

The answer: For the first time in a generation, nobody from our daily newspaper was there to cover the Olympics.

The Gazette has sent writers and photographers to the Olympics without fail since I covered the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles. It was just myself, sending out a stream of stories and columns every day from start to finish, starting a tradition that has continued — until now.

For some reason, The Gazette decided not to send anyone to Tokyo. Instead, it relied on wire services, with tweaks on occasion to mention local athletes who had been the spotlight of separate stories in the past.

Meanwhile, The Gazette’s columnists have kept their laser focus on the Denver Broncos and Colorado Rockies, with other writers covering beats as usual. Yet The Denver Post dutifully sent columnist Mark Kiszla to Tokyo, providing local flavor as well as the big picture, like always.

As for Olympic City USA, we had no local media presence in Japan. It didn’t make sense, and it’s unforgivable that The Gazette abdicated its responsibility.  

After the U.S. Olympic Committee moved to Colorado Springs in the late 1970s, there was no hesitation on The Gazette’s part. I was the sports editor, and upper management didn’t flinch at the cost involved. We had to do it. Period.

The paper (then the Gazette-Telegraph) sent sportswriter Chris Jenkins to the 1980 Winter Games in Lake Placid. He did a great job covering the Miracle on Ice, Eric Heiden’s speedskating heroics and more. Reader response was huge.

My plan was to cover the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow — until the United States boycotted those Olympics. I covered that decision by the USOC here at the Antlers Hotel, and then waited until 1984.

Starting with Los Angeles, I have covered seven Olympics. (That wasn’t past tense, because you never know if an eighth chance might come.) The last time, in 2010 at Vancouver, I represented the Indy as the only U.S. alternative newsweekly to cover the Olympics.

But The Gazette has sent journalists every time, including award-winning former photographer Mark Reis on many occasions. Until now, when it failed its readers and its history. No big deal, you say? I beg to differ. Covering the Olympics in person has produced great stories through the years that The Gazette and its readers wouldn’t have had any other way.

Let’s take 1984. Scott Johnson, a gymnast on the U.S. men’s team, had climbed the Olympic ladder from Wasson High School. He helped the U.S. men to the team gold medal, inspiring multiple stories and columns. I was able to ride with Johnson’s parents to the arena for the team event, after spending several hours with them and Scott beforehand.

I also chronicled Air Force Lt. Alonzo Babers as he went from nowhere to gold in the men’s 400 meters and 4 x 400-meter relay. He trained alone at the Air Force Academy for a year after graduation, leading to his Olympic pinnacle. In L.A. he provided a diary for the paper. Readers ate it up.

The story was similar at other Olympics, with Fort Carson boxer Andrew Maynard winning in 1988 at Seoul, Olympic Training Center swimmer Amy Van Dyken taking three golds in 1996 at Atlanta, OTC resident Apolo Anton Ohno in short-track speedskating at Nagano in 1998, all the way to Steve Holcomb and the four-man bobsled champions at Vancouver. 

In those cases, and many others, newspaper coverage geared up local readers for the biggest moments. At the same time, other stories and columns captured the ceremonies and prominent events, all written and photographed by journalists who have known the audience. 

That’s how you cover the Olympics. That’s how you create excitement for Colorado Springs. And for so many years, from Sydney to Sochi and everywhere else, that’s how The Gazette gave everyone here a front-row seat and perspective.

Who could have been featured more from Tokyo? Tamyra Mensah-Stock being the first Black woman to win Olympic gold in wrestling. Anastasija Zolotic taking gold in taekwondo. Amber English and Will Shaner winning gold in shooting. Even the Japan women’s basketball head coach, Tom Hovasse, who led Widefield High School to the 1985 state title. That list could go on and on.

The point is clear: There’s no excuse for The Gazette being absent from Tokyo. We can only hope a new streak begins at the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.

Olympic City USA deserves it.